By Neale McDevitt
Jonathan Mooney, a PhD candidate in Chemistry, says the element that he loves most about his chosen field is its ability to explain how things work. “I love using that kind of critical thinking to understand why something is behaving in a certain way,” he says. “It’s a great feeling to suddenly have that ‘ah-ha!’ moment when everything makes sense.”
As Secretary-General of McGill’s Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS), Mooney will be well served by this desire to decipher the inner workings of complex structures.
In fact, it was his two-year stint on the PGSS council that motivated him to throw his hat into the ring for the Secretary-General position this past spring. “With all the turmoil last year, I thought it might be a good for someone with a little bit of experience – someone who knows how the system works – to take on a leadership role.”
Entering the academic year, Mooney says the PGSS has an extensive To Do List that, among other things, includes assisting with the review of the student code of conduct; completing a study on ancillary fees; fine-tuning the overhauled PGSS constitution; and analyzing the Society’s business performance metrics, to verifying that Thomson House is performing optimally. Near the very top of that list is the issue of supervising.
“The student-supervisor relationship really is unique,” says Mooney. “You work for five years under one individual who has a huge amount of authority over you. Because the supervisors work in academia and they understand the mission for the most part it works well.
“But sometimes there can be a lot of trouble and there are a number of students who have completed a five-year PhD program under very difficult circumstances, and that’s not acceptable,” he says. “It’s a mental health issue and it’s an academic issue because it affects things like attrition and research productivity.”
A survey will soon be issued to graduate students and postdocs asking them about their experience with their respective supervisor. “It is sort of a health scan to assess what the system’s strengths are and where its weaknesses lie,” says Mooney. “We’re hoping the data will provide us with a framework that outlines where supervisors could receive a little bit more mentoring and training on how to better manage students.”
PGSS, in conjunction with La Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, will also have a handin preparing a study on the Quartier de l’innovation (QI), a joint project between McGill and and École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS) that will revitalize Montreal’s Griffintown neighborhood by transforming it into a hub of scientific, industrial and cultural innovation.
“We want to do a critical evaluation that not only looks at the risks that come along with university-industry partnerships and how they can transform the graduate student-postdoc experience, but also what the benefits will be. We want to present both sides of the story,” says Mooney. “We hope to then bring the results to the Administration and 8,000-plus members so we can help frame the debate and encourage people to participate in the discussion.”